6 Ways to Think Like a Top-Flight Swimmer

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook, a powerful log book and goal setting guide made specifically for swimmers. Sign up for the YourSwimBook newsletter (free) and get weekly motivational tips by clicking here.

The best make it look so easy, don’t they? Whether it is the graceful, yet extraordinarily underwater dolphin kicks, to the smooth, relaxed sprints, elite swimmers make their success seem effortless. The problem with watching championship swimmers is that we don’t see the toiling behind the scenes, the years of hard work and sacrifice. All we see is a smooth, powering stroke resulting in a world record and/or gold medal.

While not all of us are blessed with Ian Thorpe’s size 17 feet, or Missy Franklin‘s 6’1” frame, there are characteristics common within champion swimmers that we can develop within ourselves. Strategies such as visualizing our success, becoming mentally tough, or even just our posture.

Here are 6 ways to adopt the mindset of an elite swimmer–

1. Visualize success.

Top calibre swimmers recognize that a huge part of putting down exceptional performances is based on the mental side of things. In order to limit the last minute second-guessing and on-rush of nerves, elite swimmers take the time to repeatedly visualize their race.

Michael Phelps was legendary at doing this. All his coach Bob Bowman would have to tell him to do is to “put in the tape” each night as he lay in bed. Phelps would imagine the race in detail, from the dive, his entry, to the number of strokes needed to complete the race. His performances eventually came to be an after-thought, hard-wired into his brain, with the real race having taken place in his mind long before the starter’s gun went off.

2. Adopt the posture of a champ.

Swimmers are known for not having the most epic posture (guilty as charged). Believe it or not, the way you carry yourself, the manner with which you posture your body distinctly affects how you view yourself. Studies have shown that having good posture can make us feel more powerful and more positive.

When you physically frame yourself as an elite swimmer – head up, shoulders back, chest puffed out – your body reacts accordingly with increased levels of testosterone, lowered cortisol and an increased self-perception of ability. Not a bad collection of perks for just standing straight!

3. Be mentally tough.

Being tough mentally as an athlete comes from willing to make hard work a habit, particularly when you don’t feel like it or you’re not 100%. Outside of injury or illness, push through those days when your motivation slacks, you’re out of your comfort zone, or you’re uncomfortable. Every time you do is an added layer of confidence you bring to the table next time a challenge stares you in the face.

A certain 22-Olympic medal winning swimmer said it best—

The best athletes are people who don’t let anything stand in their way. Whether it is stuff on or off the field, sickness or soreness, whatever it is, they don’t let anything stand in their way. There’s no excuses.

4. Dwell on the awesome, not your losses.

Setbacks and failures are prone to happen to the best of us. Mellowing in them, and the crippled confidence that happens as a result, can drastically hinder future performance. When mistakes happen, and they inevitably will, elite swimmers adopt the lesson, whatever it may be, and move on as quickly as possible without engaging in excessive self-blame and self-pity.

5. Find ways to improve via regular monitoring and tracking.

Having goals and having a regular training regimen is par for the course with swimmers looking to make moves. Elite swimmers take it a level further by tracking and monitoring their performances in order to see what is creating results, and what is not. Having your results in hand allows you to view your training from a bird’s eye view, where you can better detect patterns and habits.

6. Get control of the narrative in your brain.

Self-talk is one of those aspects of performance that you never really think about. Without fully realizing we pepper ourselves with a variety of messages over the course of a day, some of which, if we took the time to pause and look at, are quite detrimental. Things such as—

  • I’m not good enough.
  • I don’t deserve success.
  • I’ll never be able to do this set.
  • I’ll never get back to the level I was at.

And so on.

Some of those toxic pieces of self-talk invariably loop around so many times that they become full-fledged beliefs. One of my favorite tricks for getting past the negativity is to re-frame the negative self-criticism into something softer and more positive by tacking on a “but if I did…” at the end of it.

Here’s what I mean:

  • Before: I’ll never be able to do this set.
  • After: I’ll never be able to do this set, but if I did I’d be pretty pumped with myself.

What are some other ways that separates elite swimmers from the rest? List ‘em in the comments below!

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2 Comments on "6 Ways to Think Like a Top-Flight Swimmer"

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Very good article. Very motivating!

Nailed it! Another transition tip to gaining control of the “narrative of your brain” is finding something positive to think about and saying it out loud, even if you think it’s a stretch. Make the eyebrows of your swim partners raise as you tell them about how fast your next 100m will be!

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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